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January 30, 2014
by Christie Hunter

Cyber Bullying – It's Not Just For Kids Anymore

January 30, 2014 04:55 by Christie Hunter  [About the Author]

A New Demographic of Bullies

Although cyber bullying is not a new phenomenon, awareness is increasingly being raised over cyber bullying targeting adults.

There have been several reports of  adult cyber bullying in the mainstream media in recent years. Most recently, in July three prominent British women became high profile examples of cyber bulling targets because they supported the Bank of England's decision to feature a female on the ten pound note. The women were sent repeated threats of rape and death. So heinous was the abuse that the website began an online petition for the popular social media site Twitter to include an abuse button that reports abuse immediately, rather than having to go though customer support. [1] The petition for the button has received over 138,720 clicks of support and on August 3rd of this year, Twitter announced that it was gradually introducing a one-click abuse report button. [2]

Yet for all the public attention in the mainstream media on adult cyber bullying most of the research of cyber bullying has focused on teenagers. Why is this?

Well, there are two good reasons.

One is simply that cyber bullying by definition has traditionally been used to describe bullying between minors, not between adults. However there is nothing in the National Crime Prevention Council's definition of cyber bullying - which is, “using the Internet, cell phones, video game systems, or other technology to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person” -  that exclusively applies it to minors. [3] In addition, the broader term “cyber stalking”, which is a form of cyber bullying, has been used to apply to adults. The term encompasses a wider variety of sophisticated abuses, that tend to be carried out by adults against other adults or children.

Another reason for the focus on youths is simply that teens are more likely to be involved in cyber bullying. A study by the National Crime Prevention Council found that 43% of teens from the ages of 13 to 17 have been cyber bullied and 81% of youth said that others cyber bully because they think it’s funny.

Although men are also victims of cyber bullying, women appear to be the main recipients of the abuse. Working to Halt Online Abuse (Whoa) is a US-based online organization created to help deal with the increasing reports of cyber abuse. Based on surveys taken by those placing reports, they have found that of those ages 18 to 30, 80% of victims were female, 20% were male. Surprisingly, the genders of the harasser were less diverse, 49% being male and 31% being female. [4]

Why are women so much more likely to be receivers of abuse, and yet also be the purveyors of it as well?

One reason for this has been put forward by psychologist Cheryl Dellasega in the book Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees.

(Wiley; 1 edition October 5, 2007) Dellagasa is quoted as saying, "I hear about adult women retaliating a lot more and retaliating in really vicious ways, to the point where sites get shut down, people drop off of sites”. [5] An excerpt from her book explains further. “Unlike openly aggressive men, women learn early on to go undercover with these assaults, often catching their victims unaware. Many carry this behavior into adulthood... the same game that started in grade school is still being played.” [6]

 Because of its ease on anonymity and vast worldwide audience, Twitter seems to be one online venue where mass abuse occurs regularly. It so prevalent now that new terminology has been coined to describe it.

In 2009, an offensive article written by the Daily Mail's Jan Moir elicited the backlash of some 25,000 people on Twitter.  Journalists shocked at the backlash coined the term “Twitter Mob” to explain the phenomena of mass amounts of people ganging up on a Twitter user. [7]

Trolling for Trouble

There is another vague form of abuse that takes place on Twitter called “trolling” which is broadly defined by the website as:

  1. Surfing, or browsing, the Web.
  2. Posting derogatory messages about sensitive subjects on newsgroups, forums and chat rooms    in order to vent one's feelings. The anonymity of such venues enables people to say things they          would not say in person, and they often like to ratchet up emotions to generate strong reactions.
  3. Hanging around in a chat room without saying anything, like a "peeping tom." [8]

 Dr Claire Hardaker, a lecturer in Corpus Linguistics at Lancaster University, has been researching the phenomenon of Trolls and cyber bullying on Twitter.  She is the author of “ 'Uh.....not to be nitpicky, but...the past tense of drag is dragged, not drug.': an overview of trolling strategies” [9]

She offers a few theories as to why seemingly normal people would engage in this particular form of abusive behavior which range from boredom to disenfranchisement. In an article for the Observer she writes, “Despite the potential harm trolling can inflict on others, as long as the internet offers the appearance of protection from consequences, it will, for some, also present itself as an opportunity to kill a few hours by being abusive to strangers.” [10]


[1] [“Troll attack” Aug 5, 2013 ]

[2] [“Click to kick trolls out: New anti-abuse button introduced on Twitter”.  August 4, 2013  ]

[3] [ ]

[4] [ ]

[5] [Cyberbullying growing among adult women” by Mimi Jung, King 5 News, May 6, 2010]

[6] [Book excerpt ABC News Oct 10, 2005]

[7] [The Twitter mob rules, OK? Sunny Hundal, Tuesday 19 January 2010]

[8] []

[9] [Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 06/2013]

[10] [“What is turning so many young men into internet trolls?” ]

About the Author

Christie Hunter

Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at -

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